News and views on motorsports

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The AP Issue

This post has got nothing much to do with racing per se but its such a hot topic in Malaysia right now, I'm gonna have a go with my $0.02. Here are my thoughts and observations:

1. Car import permits (APs) should be given to independent persons. Now an independent person is someone who is independent to the issuer of the import permit. The issuer in this case being the Ministry of Trade and all employees and persons who hold office at the Ministry. Therefore, import permits should not be given to persons connected to the Ministry. In addition, an independent person must also be seen to be indpependent. This is a subtle but important point.

Take this case for instance. The niece of the Minister of Trade might in fact act independently of her aunt, the minister. The aunt may in fact choose not to grant favourable terms to her niece. It may in fact be the case that the niece is indeed a capable businessperson in her own right.

But the problem is clearly, she is not seen to be independent. Because of her close, blood relations with the minister, no one will believe her.

Its just good corporate practise that suppliers or vendors who sell to a company cannot be run or owned by persons closely connected to any person in said company. Thats good practise because it avoids abuse. And there can be no arguments as to the integrity of the company's employees or its supplier.

Hence, the Ministry of Trade (and this applies to a whole host of government agencies) should not be issuing out these highly valuable import permits to closely connected persons. The whole question of integrity will arise.

2. The issue of independence should be extended to former employees of the Ministry of Trade. Now it is not unknown worldwide for former government employees to be employed in industry or start their own businesses. But clearly in this case, it is a whole different matter. The import permits each worth up to RM30,000 in the open market are granted at nearly zero costs to these former employees. Zero cost, ladies and gentlemen. Some argue administration charges but these are miniscule compared to the value of the permits.

The opportunity for arbitrage is clearly a very real and tempting proposition. If you were granted a thousand of these permits you could stand to gain up to RM30 million simply by selling these permits on to interested parties. And there are of course no shortage of takers for these permits. Each and every one of them are utilized.

3. The whole system of import permits is open to abuse. The arbitrage opportunities are clearly too great a temptation especially for those who do not possess the requisite skills and expertise to actually utilize the permits for the purposes of operating a car import business. Its then just smart business sense to simply sell off the permits.

4. A car manufacturer, after more than 20 years of operation, that still requires government aid for its survival should simply be shot dead. The cost of protectionism is in the end borne by just one party. The consumers. For an age now, Malaysians having been paying over the odds for cars of unbearable quality. Measures implemented to protect the national car causes artificially high prices on imported vehicles. These cars are beyond the reach of most ordinary Malaysians.

And yet, the national car in itself is not an exactly cheap piece of machinery. The Proton Waja for instance costs RM70,000 or just about 2.5-3 times the average executive annual salary. Thats so goddamned ludicrous.

Clearly, Malaysians could be driving much cheaper and ifinitely higher quality vehicles if imported vehicles were not slapped the ridiculous taxes imposed upon them. For those who don't know the top tax rate on imported cars in Malaysia is 300%. The minimum is 100%. And British buyers complain about 17.5% VAT. Hah. In addition there are directives by the government that whatever the case may be these cars must be priced higher than the equivalent national car.

Now do the math. Economies of scale dictate that the unit cost of a Honda or Toyota is going to be a lot less than small volume production Protons. Logically speaking then, these manufacturers could offer Malaysians modern, more environmentally friendly and economical vehicles at a cheaper price. Instead what do Malaysians get to drive? In the case of the Proton Iswara a car that is basically 22 years old using technology that Mitsubishi has long disposed of. The Proton Satria in all its guises is another venerable offering. The basic design and technology comes from the CA4A Mitsubishi Colts circa 1988, being sold to Malaysians at a cost of nearly USD10,000.

Crazy considering that the big manufacturers change their models every 5 years.

5. Like me, most Malaysian's end up owning Protons as their first cars. But after that, given a choice, would they want another Proton? Hell no. If you could afford it an import is the way to go. You just know that Proton's interior is going to annoyingly squeak after a month, driving you, the spender of hard earned cash, up the frickin wall.

A Toyota Vios (Yaris) or a Proton Waja? Priced closely together, the Waja is a bigger car. And cheaper. But I'd go for a Vios in a heartbeat.

6. What was the Asean Free Trade Agreement all about? I thought the aim of a free trade agreement is to foster inter regional trade by removing protectionist and other trade barriers. You would be forgiven to expect cheaper goods and services. And given the huge outlay you make for cars, you would be forgiven to cherish the prospect of cheaper vehicles saving you, the consumer, a huge dollop of cash.

But did car prices fall? It most certainly did not. Import duties were replaced with excise duties and other government directives and voila! Prices have now increased instead. At the time of writing its expected to increase even further. Word has it imported vehicle prices will be raised by 20% in the next few months. Twenty bloody percent!!!

Allow me to illustrate. Take the case of the BMW 330i. Listed by BMW Malaysia at RM428,000. Call it USD 122,000. A twenty percent price increase brings it up to half a million ringgit or a whopping USD 143,000. I think you could definitely buy the latest Porsche 911 with change in the States for that money or a Ferrari.

7. Nationalism, national pride or whatever aside, haven't you, dear Malaysian consumer, have had enough of paying for overpriced, sub quality cars? Three years of your salary up in smoke on a depreciating asset. Or should I say liability? If the government's intention is to promote heavy industries in this country, I'd say there are plenty of other routes into it. After all, do we see a Canadian car manufacturer? No we don't and why should the Canadians need one?. In fact, we don't even see a British owned car manufacturer.

What on Earth was the Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor all about if not to foster investments and expertise into high value added technology? Malaysia should have seriously pursued that route instead of making the MSC a glorified real estate project. Thats where the future lies, not in manufacturing cars for the fiscal benefit of cronies. In the end, the consumers pay and pay dearly for such things.

Malaysia ought to be developing high added value and high tech expertise. If Indians in Bangalore can do it, I am certain if Malaysians were serious, we could easily do the same or even better. Singaporeans can be smug about their achievements in the tech sector but thats only because Malaysians have been so badly led, misguided and mismanaged. If Malaysia were really serious, that tiny speck of land to Malaysia's South simply wouldn't get a look in.

I have digressed, I do apologise. However, my point is that Proton and to a much lesser extent Perodua is completely unnecessary for the long term future of Malaysia. There are other avenues for developing the country.

8. The car market should be made open. It would force Proton to get serious and it would benefit consumers tremendously with higher quality and lower prices. And just to touch on a bit of racing, more Malaysian competitors would be better able to afford imported racing cars to produce better, more atrractive and more competitive racing.

9. The situtaion I have just discribed would seem inexplicable to anyone living in the West and would not be tolerated. And yet, Malaysians simply smile and let the powers get away with it because Malaysians are told that its good for them. Good for a small bunch of cronies who profit from it is the reality of the situation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The State of Malaysian Racing

Malaysia hosts a round of the FIA Formula 1 world championship. Clearly, this has succeeded enormously in raising awareness throughout the world. That is clearly why a lot of other (especially third world) countries are desperate to host a round and are prepared to invest vast sums of money in racing infrastructure and spend enormously every year on Bernie.

Its interesting that in the United States its the organizers who pay circuit owners to hold the event. Witness the recent sale of rights to hold the Long Beach Grand Prix. But elsewhere around the world the circus ringmaster holds all the cards.

Whether or not the raised awareness of Malaysia brings with it tangible economic benefits is debatable and to a lot of racing fans, they couldn't care less.

The government in Malaysia is a most powerful organisation and is by and large the biggest spender in the economy. In proportionate terms (of GDP) government spending in Malaysia I believe dwarves those of any Western government. The Grand Prix certainly could not happen without government spending.

So Malaysians are very lucky in one sense. In the West, the existence and demise of circuits and events are largely at the mercy of market forces. Silverstone for instance needed to beg the UK government of come to their aid when Bernie was piling on the pressure. The UK government assistance is hardly the amount given by the Malaysian government towards Sepang. Its only because of the special historic significance that Silverstone holds, that the UK government eventually lent some aid.

But thats Silverstone. Other circuits like Brands, Oulton, Snetterton, Mallory and all the rest have all got to fend for themselves. But thankfully the UK motorsport industry has been around for ages and there are lots of petrolheads in Britain. The same situation can be found in America, Germany, France, Italy and Japan. All countries able to sustain a motorsport industry largely independent of any government initiatives.

It is clear that motor racing is an expensive sport. To succeed a healthy bank balance is required. Malaysia's economy in terms of GDP is nowhere near the aforementioned countries. And despite the round of Formula 1 held every year, most Malaysians couldn't give bugger all about racing. And the ones that do feel very alienated.

So with crowd attendance at Malaysian racing events at pathetic levels, there is no "eco-system" able to sustain a healthy motor sports industry in this country. Sponsors don't see crowds and in turn don't want to sponsor teams and drivers. This in turn means that you'll only see a bunch of rich but talentless businessmen racing in their flash cars. And in turn, this puts off the crowds who (1) want to see great talent and (2) don't feel any connection and don't identify with these businessmen. A downward spiral.

There's more. Apparently sponsoring events in Sepang is not a clear cut affair. Some petroleum companies with near limitless levels of cash are not allowed to sponsor events. Only because the Sepang circuit has strong connections with a local oil company. No names need be mentioned.

My point is that its difficult to sustain motorsports in Malaysia. Without a sustained and strong, competitive championship, how do you pick out the real cream of the crop?

What chance then for Malaysia's young pilotes? Well first and hopefully, he or she would have picked good parents to be born on to. That way daddy dearest can pay for your racing for a while. Secondly and again, in steps the government. Witness Alex Yoong's stint in Formula 1. Largely funded by a comnination of government and a few Malaysian corporate sponsors. Now, ask any Malaysian and he or she will feel that those corporate sponsors were definitely coerced into sponsoring Alex Yoong. Licenses and permits from the authorities have to renewed you understand. A messy affair to be sure. Word is that the sponsors never paid Paul Stoddart and Minardi his money. In turn, poor Alex is now having trouble with Paul collecting his back pay.

The problem in Malaysia is that once the government steps in with its cash, greed and politics arrive with it. Sounds familiar right Bernie? But in the case of the Formula 1 politics, the protagonists have a high degree of knowledge about the sport. Even Max Mosley if you compare to some of the the morons over here. In Malaysia, the powers have very little knowledge but plenty of greed.

Now when I say greed, it isn't just for money but for recognition, status and above all, power. A healthy dollop of cash helps. Greed overpowers any need to succeed in the sport itself. So, those who can best pamper to their greed, gets the loot in Malaysia. But those who do so aren't necessarily the best this country has to offer. I say far from it.

But because they aren't well connected to the powers, they miss out on the much needed government funding. Make no mistake. In a small economy such as this, government aid is essential for the budding international racing driver.

I will paraphrase the Malaysian Prime Minister himself on this matter when he says to the effect that he himself is aware of this. Although he was referring to the general political and economic context, it is apt that it be applied to this matter. For it is a reflection of Malaysia life. That a small minority are given most of the opportunities but abuse it, many have no opportunities at all.

What irks many in Malaysia is that its the taxpayer's money thats funding these below par performances. Well, now you know why I absolutely detest cronies.

Now you may wonder why I've gone local all of a sudden. Well, it was because of reading this interesting post in a forum on a Malaysia Formula 1 website. A pity that only Malaysians would understand it but the language of the poster is dreadfully hilarious. I have no idea whether his allegations have any grain of truth to it but it reflects a lot of the suspicion in Malaysian minds.

Monday, July 25, 2005

German Grand Prix

I may not like this new Hokkenheim circuit but I have to admit, the racing here was better than at Silverstone a fortnight ago. This circuit, remodelled by Herman Tilke carries his characteristic tight and slow corners, where aerodynamic turbulence is less of a factor. The cars relying much more on mechanical grip and the tyres. This may be what the FIA wants for the future but god, those slow corners are dreadful and don't show off what the cars can really do in the twisty bits.

You'd have to wait for Spa for that where the fast sweeps adds to the spectacle. But I fear the cars would be very much affected by aero disturbances there, as in Silverstone.

Yet again, McLaren are doing the favourite party trick. That is to let their drivers down just when it matters most. Raikkonen didn't put a foot wrong all weekend except for that lurid, go-kart like slide during his qualifying lap. Even then he managed to stick it into pole. The driver that is arguably letting his team down in Juan Pablo Montoya whose lift off oversteer at the final couple of bends ended up in a spin and a trip into the gravel.

So quick is that McLaren though, Juan Pablo managed to fight his way from twentieth and last all the way to finishing second in the race. To say that the cars were not affected by aero turbulence at all can't be true. Once Montoya had swept up into the top ten (which didn't take long at all), his progressed was slowed by the slower cars up front. His overtaking largely happening during the pitstops.

My theory is that whilst the McLaren has superb aero and is clearly the most agile and well balanced car out there, nevertheless, the Mercedes engine doesn't have the grunt of the other engines. Reportedly its power output is significantly less than Toyota, BMW and Ferrari. Although, Juan Pablo did manage to dispatch Ralf Schumacher with ease before the first stops. So, the McLaren relies much more on its chassis and aero for its speed. And getting stuck behind the likes of Button and Schumacher spoils the aero balance especially. Juan Pablo misses the extra grunt of the Honda and Ferrari engine.

Nevertheless, Juan Pablo had a lot of fuel in his McLaren and could run much longer than the rest. Indeed Juan Pablo spoke of saving fuel running behind the slower cars. Once in clear air, he could build up a cushion and overtake the BAR and Ferrari in the pits. Still, he should have stuck the McLaren on the front row and possibly win this race.

Michael Schumacher ran well in the opening stages in third and once Kimi's McLaren retired moved into second but unable to do anything with the speeding Renault ahead. Fernando Alonso in his own words had a boring afternoon. His Renault and the McLarens are miles ahead of the rest.

Schumacher elected to use softer Bridgestone tyres which was a very interesting tactic. Obviously his plan was to qualify ahead of as many people as possible behind the Renaults and McLarens. He must have known from free practice that the Japanese rubber wouldn't last the race and indeed in free practice his tyres were going bald. But given the slowish nature of this circuit, he could fight a rear guard action towards the end of the race.

His strategy succeeded. His Ferrari once his tyres were worn became a scarlet roadblock and he managed to hold off Button and Montoya for a long time. Jenson eventually made it through with a good overtaking move at the hairpin. Juan Pablo overtook him once Michael dived in for his second fuel stop. From then on, you could tell the Ferrari was losing more and more grip as the race drew to a close.

Schumacher's lap times were getting slower and slower. In the end, he might have hung on to fourth but for a fuel feed problem. This let Giancarlo through a couple of laps from the end. Behind Michael was a queue of cars including Ralf Schumacher's Toyota and David Coulthard's Red Bull, having a good weekend. However, the Ferrari's pace is a tribute to Michael's driving and good strategy. Otherwise, he would have suffered the same fate as Rubens Barrichello who finished behind Christian Klein after being passed by the Austrain. In the end Barrichello's Ferrari was lapped by leader Alonso.

Spare a thought for Raikkonen. He was setting lap times in the 1m 14s during the race, in a package clearly suited for him. He was pulling away from Fernando Alonso in what looked like a sure and easy win. In the end a pointless exercise. His hydraulic failure reminded me of the same one that afflicted Juan Pablo's McLaren at Magny Cours. Despite Ron Dennis' claims that Kimi should stay with McLaren to win the championship, young Kimi must seriously be thinking about driving other cars. Just when will McLaren sort their fast but fragile cars? Even a die hard McLaren fan like myself is getting pretty sick of this.

Toyota, in my mind are moving backwards. After some stellar performances in Bahrain and Malaysia, the team has not managed to consolidate and build upon that. The problem with the Toyotas seem to be the way they use their rubber. In the early part of the year, it seemed that they can start well but their pace bleeds off towards the end. At this stage of the championship, they're starting horridly but the car builds up speed towards the end. Even then, in terms of outright raw pace they're slipping badly behind the McLarens, Renaults and even deadly rivals BAR Honda. No surprises then that Ferrari are ahead of the in the constructors race.

Mike Gascoyne has plenty to do yet. However, I think as experienced as Gustav Brunner is, I should think that Mike would be better off with a new and more dynamic chassis designer. As in 2004, Gustav runs out of ideas in mid season.

One chap who didn't have a good weekend was Jacques Villenueve. He had a coming together with rookie Doornbos and later ran into the back of Tiago Monteiro. Poor Jacques is having a torrid time this year and once again outpaced and outraced by Filipe Massa who finished in eighth. Mario Thiessen must be shaking his head and Sauber contract or not, Mario can't afford this in his BMW team next year.

There was some good battles for the podium in Germany this weekend but I think all of us wants to see a fight for the lead. Something like the opening stages in Montreal where the Renaults and McLarens were having a good battle royal, but happening throughout the race. One thing's for sure, I doubt we'll get that at Hungary this weekend.

But happily again for me, the Ferraris despite all the testing (cheating) they've been doing are still struggling and getting left for dead. Long may that continue. Perhaps Ron Dennis was right when a year ago at Spa he predicted the fall of Maranello. The old guard is changing. Clearly, they miss Rory Byrne's hand at designing the cars. Jean Todt some say is getting a bit too distracted by his glamour seeking wife and spends less time at the factory.

On top of that he has to run the Ferrari road car operations. Once Ross Brawn leaves, perhaps at the end of next year I believe the scarlet cars could be facing another long drought of championships. Whether it will last 21 years as it did before year 2000 is another matter. if Michael wants to continue after 2006, he's going to have to convince the top people to stay on and Ferrari are going to need someone better than Aldo Costa to pen their racing cars.

If Michael leaves, I simply don't think anyone, not Raikkonen, not Button nor Alonso, could fill his shoes. Ferrari is his team and without him, they would be struggling even more this year. When he leaves, it won't be the same team and that is something Kimi, Fernando and Jenson must realise. They may be as quick as Michael on the racing track but they simply don't have the leadership and technical qualities that the German has.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

News Roundup

Following Red Bull's announcement that they had signed the new Concorde agreement, Christian Horner was moved to say a few words regarding its decisions. Just when will people in high places start to tell the truth for once? A good editorial on the matter appears here on PlanetF1. Glad to see other people reaching the same conclusions I did in my last post.

Just speculating here. 2008 sees a new set of rules alongside the new Concorde agreement. Significantly, teams are allowed to purchase chassis in addition to engines. I would speculate that the alliance between Ferrari and Red Bull will eventually lead Red Bull to purchase a complete car from them come 2008. Thats not exactly a bad thing to do. A complete car combined with the existing resources at RBR may produce a situation not unlike sports cars, where it is possible for a crack team of privateers to beat the works cars. If of course, Ferrari allow RBR to have the latest evolutions of their cars.

If you read the PlanetF1 editorial, it suggests that Ferrari's finances, or lack of it, is responsible in part for its poor form this year. Quite apart from the tyre issue, the company's parent FIAT are losing money by the barrel loads and it cannot sustain the current level of spending on its favourite pet. Ferrari must be thanking their lucky stars that someone is stupid enough to bend over now that Sauber has moved on to a bigger and brighter future with BMW.

Enter Red Bull. Very profitable by all accounts and ever in need for more marketing exposure on a global scale. For a start they're buying engines from Ferrari but come 2007 or 2008, who's to say that they couldn't or indeed wouldn't extend and pool their resources further to produce complete racing cars. After all a Red Bull run Ferrari is still a Ferrari and Ferrari itself would still benefit if they won.

Could Jordan, soon to be Midland Grand Prix be having the same idea? Hot on the heels of Red Bull's announcement comes the news that Jordan have also signed up for the new Concorde. Their decision seems inexplicable. However, I think Alex Shnaider's relationship with Bernie is strong and I'm sure he must have bought into Bernie's arguments that staying with him gives Midland long term security as an independent team. I'm sure Alex has nightmares about the big manufacturers eating him and spitting him out should he go with them. And who knows, maybe Jordan could buy cars from Ferrari as well.

So, thats one more team who's going the Bernie way. And those Jordan, like Red Bull, are basically agreeing that Ferrari should get the privileged position it feels it deserves. That to me is simply bullshit. Perhaps someday far, far into the future, the truth will be revealed as to why these guys signed up for something that immediately gives their rival a headstart over everyone else. For now, there's this comment on thats quite interesting.

I shouldn't think anyone else is interested in the Concorde agreement in its current form. There have been suggestions that perhaps a championship backed by a new agreement and one which includes Bernie in it, could be formed to take Formula 1 into the future. After all, Bernie has got those annoying banks to deal with. A new entity would get rid of them.

On to other matters now. I don't know whether this story is a joke or not but there are suggestions that Williams Grand Prix Engineering is up for sale. The buyer is reportedly a Korean consortium that includes Hyundai and Samsung. Koreans owning that quintessential British team? That somehow sounds sacrilegious to me. I know you lot are getting old but Frank, Patrick, please say it isn't so. But interestingly enough, heading the consortium is ex-BAR boss David Richards.

I'm speculating again here but though BMW offers Williams engines for next year, essentially the team has lost its "works" status. BMW itself have wasted no time in getting straight to work with their recently acquired Sauber team. Frank and Patrick are now busy looking at alternative engine supplies for next year. Cosworth being on pole position for the job. However, Cosworth is not manufacturer backed having been dumped by those disgusting Ford bean counters. So perhaps someone like Hyundai jumping in may just give Cosworth the backing it needs. Much like how Mercedes give Ilmor the backing it requires and how Ford did the same once with Cosworth.

Moving along, Michelin have announced that they are "completely open to allowing for a more balanced split of teams among tyre manufacturers, starting as early as the 2006 season." As you know, Michelin are supplying the majority of teams with tyres at the moment. An short analysis of the situation appears on Pitpass here. The question is, if Michelin is calling for Bridgestone to supply more teams, then who are Michelin going to drop? I think we can count on Red Bull to be taking up Bridgestone tyres. That just leaves with one more team for them to drop.

One thing's for sure, both Michelin and Bridgestone will be fighting tooth and nail to remain in Formula 1 despite the calls for control tyres. I think this is simply a ploy for Michelin to remain in the sport. After Indianapolis, one could say that Bridgestone is looking extremely good to be the sole tyre supplier in Formula 1. Michelin's argument is that a tyre competition is beneficial not only to the sport but to the motoring industry as a whole. Hence, having two manufacturers supplying teams equally would go a long way towards that aim.

Finally in a scene reminiscent of a bygone era, Professor Prost has beaten Il Leone, Nigel Mansell, in a charity "race of legends" at Norisring in Germany. Other competitors in the race included Jody Scheckter, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mick Doohan and Johnny Cecotto (now there's a name I haven't hear in ages). The drivers raced in DTM cars. Prost apprently enjoyed it a lot and has given thought to racing in the DTM. Now that would be something having two former world champions, including Mika Hakkinen, in the series.

Meanwhile Nigel Mansell has criticized the current Formula 1 rules. In particular the silly one tyre per race rule has come under fire from the 1992 world champion. I must say, I didn't quite like Mansell's drama queen shenanigans when he was racing but on this matter, I hear you Nige. Though its quite unlikely that Max would.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Red Bull Signs 2008 Concorde

I don't think anyone is surprised that Red Bull have announced that they have signed up to the new Concorde Agreement that will see them racing in Formula 1 until 2012. They are the second to do so after Ferrari signed up earlier this year. Red Bull of course will be using Ferrari engines from next year onwards. I wouldn't be surprised if they switched to Bridgestone tyres as well. Bridgestone will definitely welcome it.

Just a reminder on some of the salient points in the new 2008 Concorde agreement. Quoted from this article in the BBC :


* Ferrari are guaranteed $67m (£34.8m) every year - an estimated 15-20% of their budget - before any money is distributed to the other teams.

* Ferrari have absolute veto over all changes agreed by the other teams, even if the other teams agree unanimously.

* Ferrari would get more of F1's commercial revenue if they finished last than any other team would if they won the world championship.


Despite the young, trendy and sporty corporate image Red Bull likes to project, make no mistake they are first and foremost marketing (and hence business) driven. Because of that there is no difference between them and the GPWC manufacturers. I suppose, like Bridgestone, the suits at Red Bull seem to think that being associated with one of the most glamorous and well known names in the world, Ferrari, will give them enormous exposure and promotional benefits.

Now why would I think that? Well, just look at what they signed up to. The new Concorde gives Ferrari unfair commercial benefits and unacceptable veto powers. Is that sporting? No. And do you really think Maranello would allow Red Bull to consistently beat them? I don't think so. Therefore, I conclude that Red Bull must be in it simply for the marketing exposure. Yes, just like the manufacturers. The difference is the manufacturers want to win and win it fairly.

Friday, July 15, 2005


It looks like all the smoke blown up Max Mosley's arse and a little persuasion from Ron Dennis and Christian Horner on behalf of the Michelin Seven, the FIA have decided that "disciplinary proceedings against the teams had ceased to be appropriate and were no longer in the interest of the sport." Furthermore, "The Senate will therefore recommend to the World Motor Sport Council that the guilty verdict of 29 June against the teams be cancelled."

That lets the teams off the hook with the FIA and as well they should be. However, I'm not so sure it will go down well with the plaintiffs in the on-going class action in the courts in the United States. Perhaps, coming to some sort of agreement between them will give them some sort of coherent defence in those legal proceedings.

I'm not certain about this but that must be the first time that the FIA have reversed their position on a ruling. But then again, it must have been in their interest to do so as well. Whereas in previous cases, it was against individual parties, in this case it was against 70% of the Formula 1 grid, with serious consequences to their own image and their crown jewel, the Formula 1 world championship itself.

Will the politics end or at least go back down to previously normal levels? I doubt it but I'm sure the FIA must have learnt a lesson here about going up against a whole group of dissatisfied teams. Its ugly and is bad for the sport. And likewise, the teams too will decide in the future to these more civilized methods of solving problems.

I am happy about this but you see the Indianapolis debacle was never about the tyres alone. Whether there's a single tyre manufacturer in Formula 1 or 10 manufacturers is irrelevant. The politics in Formula 1 is caused be a deep dissatisfaction with the FIA on issues and views that have been long held by the teams. Issues like rule stability, the FIA's dictatorial style and stupidity, the equitable distribution of income and, though it is not often said publicly by the teams themselves, by the lopsided and blatantly favourable treatment of Ferrari by the FIA. For the politics to go away these issues must be resolved.

It is unfortunate that the fans in general and those at Indianapolis in particular, were caught in the crossfire of that on firefight. For there to be peace, the underlying issues must be addressed to the satisfaction of all parties. Hopefully, the recent mood of reconciliation between the parties paves the way to a long term solution. And the fighting will hopefully be confined to where it should remain, on the race track.

2005 is the best season in years. Its a two horse race to the championship with many supporting acts along the way. Its captivating in the sense that predicting a winner is a lottery. Lets hope the FIA and the teams keep it that way or improve it, not just for this season but for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Much Ado About Jenson

In this story on PlanetF1, BAR is reportedly willing to offer a supply of Honda engines in exchange for retaining Jenson Button. Yes, you read it right. BAR is offering. Allegedly such a supply of Honda power is worth some 10 million pounds a year.

BAR are certainly fighting tooth and nail for the Englishman's services. They've offered him a five year 50 million pound deal. In the past BAR have offered Jenson a lifetime drive at BAR if he so chooses.

In related news, after repeated denials initially by Rubens Barrichello, he's now saying that staying at Ferrari for next is still not a complete certainty. BAR and Toyota now hold some appeal for the Brazilian. He also cites frustration about his treatment by Ferrari, citing "a lack of respect." Could it also be that Ferrari were really serious about recruiting Jenson Button?

Jenson is highly talented driver. He first entered Formula 1 in 2000 replacing the hapless Alex Zanardi at Williams, fresh from a two year stint in British Formula 3. Jenson in fact did not win that championship. Nevertheless, he so impressed then BMW Motorsport director Gerhard Berger, the Austrian fell all over himself to convince Frank Williams that the youngster would do the business.

He did indeed, distinguishing himself at that ultimate driver's circuit, Spa Francorchamps in the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix. After a year at Williams he was then sent to Benetton where he was completely outclassed by Giancarlo Fisichella. After Benetton became Renault, Button's career looked like being in the dumps with some less than stellar performance with the Enstone squad, eventually replaced by current championship leader Fernando Alonso. Then David Richards came a calling, Button went to BAR and the rest you know about.

Perhaps Button had to go through a learning period after his Williams debut. Perhaps it was David Richard's guidance and support that transformed him into a driver able to best a former world champion. Perhaps he is indeed now a polished gem poised to take the world title given the right team and car package.

But 10 million quid a year is a lotsa money. On top of that BAR want to supply engines to Williams worth another 10 million quid in exchange of Jenson. In all he's Mister 20 million. That's Michael Schumacher money. More in fact. The difference is Schumacher is an 84 time grand prix winner with 7 world titles under his belt. Jenson hasn't even won a race.

In addition, such is Schumacher's talent that in 1991 he came, he saw and he immediately put 3 time world champion Nelson Piquet into the shade. And at no time in his Formula 1 career can any teammate of his claimed to have eclipsed the German over an entire season. Talent like that I've only seen in 2 other people, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Of course, being a Senna fan, I rate him highest of all. I simply do not see that level of talent in Jenson Button.

I seriously question BAR's obsession with this Englishman. They're simply paying over the odds for this driver. An admittedly good driver. But not that good I believe. I simply have to agree with Eddie Irvine on this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Boost Button

Max Mosley who was once heard to dismiss overtaking as unimportant to the fans, has now done a complete U turn on the issue. Having heard the voice of the fans, he wants overtaking to be a major feature. It just shows you how out of touch these FIA types are to audiences.

Anyway, Mad Max has now proposed a boost button that when depressed, would give an extra power boost to the car to allow it to overtake the rival in front. The power boost works by storing energy released under braking into a battery. It would then be used to somehow give a quick squirt of power for the driver to overtake.

It sounds like a system used in Indycars I believe. But doesn't BAR already have an "overtake" button for its Honda engine?

Also, I agree with the Pitpass article. Whats needed is not artificial measures like these to improve overtaking but driver skill and bravery. Also, the aerodynamics of the car must be such that turbulence does not affect it so much as to render overtaking impossible.

A better proposal I think is to introduce measures to reduce reliance on front wing produced downforce. In fact, instead of reducing the length of the venturi tunnels as they did this year, it should be extended. In fact, they should use the Indycar / Champcar style aero that allows tunnels all the way to the front of the car. That way a very large portion of downforce is produced by the body of the car instead of the wings.

Sliding side skirts can still be banned. Think of the old Group C / Le Mans sports car style aero. If you discount the front bodywork, those cars in fact have little or no front wings. Think Porsche 956/962. It had no front wing (unless you count the bodywork itself) and a small rear wing but good downforce was produced by its long venturi tunnels running throughout the length of the car.

In fact Tyrell introduced the sliding skirted front wing in 1990 and was used by the likes of Williams and McLaren all through 1991 and 1992 before being banned in 1993. Or was it 1994? I can't remember exactly. The point is, those wings relied on ground effects to produce its downforce. The sliding skirts ensured that air was being sucked right through underneath the wings and channelled into the low pressure area behind rear brakes. The top of the wing was guaranteed to be at a high pressure, thus producing downforce.

The wings these days need lots of fresh air, which when its behind another car, is none existent. All this from the people who said that regulations should no longer be the premise of team technical directors. Dumb ass lawyer.

You see a lot more overtaking in Champcars and Indycars because they have "proper" aero. Yes, they have boost buttons in Indycars as well but it really isn't needed. If the aero on the car works fine drivers will find a way past. At moment, they haven't got the grip to give it a good lunge for an inside pass.

No boost buttons in karts but its overtaking galore there. Aerodynamics and downforce are nice to have and in a series like Formula 1 generates interest among the tech enthusiast. They just need proper ones. Its probably the only impediment left to a good show.

Spirits Alive

This story on Pitpass shows why Bernie Ecclestone would do well not to attack Silverstone and the British Grand Prix every chance he gets. Well, at least this year he's a lot happier.

The Pitpass just goes to show you why Britain is the home of motorsports. It still has an unparalleled racing industry centered around Surrey and Oxfordshire and just look at the fans. Already at Silverstone at 5.30AM!! Just you try getting an Arab sheikh down to his Bahrain circuit at that hour. I bet no matter how many new countries Bernie wants to recruit and possibly replace the British Grand Prix, he'll never get the same partisan crowds they have over there.

Having said that, access to Silverstone is still a bitch unless by air, so maybe the fans are in early to beat the inevitable queue. But at half past five? Thats what I call die hard fans. At that hour the typical crony is still in bed with mistress and contemplating whether or not to use his complimentary paddock pass at the grand prix and rub shoulders with have-to-be-seen-with politicians.

All this despite all the bickering and politics. As Pitpass says, other sports would kill to have this sort of fan loyalty.

Williams' Engine

There have been many rumours and speculation on this topic over the last couple of months and especially once it was confirmed that BMW will now have a works team in Formula 1. is carrying this story telling how Williams might use Cosworth next year before switching to a Lexus badged Toyota engine for 2007. It has also been speculated that Honda might do a deal with Williams if they agree to let the BAR team keep Jenson Button for next year and beyond. Meanwhile Sam Michael, the Williams technical director, is screaming for some sort of decision to be made, obviously so that he can get on with designing next year's car. The later the decision comes, the less time he has.

There are pros and cons of each supplier. With Cosworth, Williams will presumably be getting their near exclusive attention, notwithstanding a supply to Minardi of rev limited V10s next year. On the flip side, Cosworth cannot command the resources of the manufacturers. But would they need to? V8s have been Cosworth's speciality for ages ever since the introduction of the famous double four valve (DFV) Cosworth engines in the 1960s. Today, Cosworth still supplies V8s to Indycar and Champcar. And their V10s are pretty handy as well. Also, their new F1 V8 is already in an advanced state of development over the rest. Whether they can sustain that lead is another matter but Cosworth is specialist manufacturer par excellence.

With Honda, Williams would still be tied to a manufacturer although it probably means a "customer" unit. The Toyota deal looks more promising. With all three options, Williams just might have to pay for engines next year but thats something they want to avoid. Williams could also stay with BMW, as Mario Thiessen have an open invitation to them for a continued supply. That to me is actually the best option especially since BMW promises them works quality engines. But the problem is most likely a human one. The relationship between these two companies have been soured and damaged perhaps to a point of no return now.

In the final analysis, the choice of engine partner is irrelevant for one reason. Williams have got to get the car sorted out first. In the May 2005 issue of F1 Racing magazine, it is estimated that the most powerful engines in F1 are Toyota, BMW and Ferrari in that order (930-970bhp). And yet, the fastest car at the moment is the McLaren powered by perhaps the most puny engine (around 900 - 920 bhp) of the lot (Minardi excepted). However, McLaren have got things absolutely sorted. Williams are still screwing around.

Unlike in the 1980s or the mid-1990s, when one absolutely and simply must have a Honda and later a Renault engine for any chance of championship success (Ford powered Benetton being the exception), the glut of manufacturers involved in Formula 1 today ensures that the choice of engine is not such an important factor. If your car is sorted, you will be competitive. All engines are producing roughly the same power, all around the 900 bhp mark or more. But could you imagine a Toyota powered McLaren? Renault and the rest would be eating dust every weekend. But as it stands they're still doing the business.

Never mind BMW, this is the leanest spell for Grove ever since they started grand prix racing. Come 2007, this spell would have stretched to 10 years without a world title. The previous lean spell would arguably be the period between Keke Rosberg's 1982 title and Nelson Piquet's third title in 1987. After the successes of the 90s with the likes of Mansell, Prost, Hill and Villeneuve, Williams are starting to lose their credibility.

So perhaps they should just swallow their pride and start dishing out dosh for engines. They aren't as blue chip as before. Perhaps the most insulting thing I've read about them is a Reuters journalist calling them wannabes a few seasons ago. Williams??? A wannabe?

At the moment, Jenson Button would probably be wise to remain at Brackley. The continuity and commitment by Honda will probably produce better results for him over there than at Grove. Williams will still be finding their feet for at least 2 to 3 seasons more the way it looks. Unless of course they can play nice with BMW.

Finally, I have no doubt that young Sam Michael is a genius. But is a software developer really qualified to lead the technical department at Williams? I would imagine they'd be better off with someone who has some mechanical or aero engineering qualifications, as in an Adrian Newey, a Pat Symonds or a Mike Gascoyne. Oh well, in this I'm no expert and I'm sure Patrick Head knows what he's doing. Despite the dismal results.

Update: Toyota says no to Williams for 2006 but is a possibility for 2007. Honda meanwhile says that time is running out.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

British Grand Prix

At last, Juan Pablo has made it to the top step in a McLaren. After all the crap he's received (and dished out) over the season its all come good at last for the man from Bogota. He attributes his win to the first corner on the first lap, but in truth it was much more than that.

Luckily for him Kimi Raikkonen unfortunately had to start with a 10 spot penalty on the grid after an oil pump failure in his McLaren forced the team to change his engine. It was the second time in as many races poor Kimi had been penalized as such. Norbert Haug has hit out at the rules against this but really, the fault lies squarely at Mercedes on this one.

Now for many sentimental reasons I like the McLaren team. However, I believe they have this nasty habit of letting their drivers down. It certainly happened a lot to Mika Hakkinen in the past. Its happening again with Kimi. Unlike last season when McLaren had no chance at the title, this time its happening at a most critical time in the world championship. You can see at the post race interview, the frustration boiling up in Kimi despite trying to maintain a cool composure.

Luckily also for Juan Pablo, Fernando Alonso experienced traffic problems during the race. In one clear incident he was badly baulked by his good mate Jarno Trulli. He was forgiving enough of Jarno preferring instead to heap the blame on the marshals. Indeed, had he not lost time behind Jarno, he may well have been able to leapfrog Montoya after the second round of stops. Fernando chose a heavier fuel load after the first round of stops to run a longer stint. He had five extra laps on Montoya and he certainly was catching up the time lost very quickly. Alas, it was not to be.

What should not be surprising is that whilst the McLaren is ultimately the quicker car, the Renault is not far behind. Helped of course by some stellar driving by Fernando. He truly deserves to be world champion. So do Renault for giving him such a reliable and fast car. Not forgetting of course Michelin, who despite dropping the ball big time at Indianapolis, gives them both a tyre to murder Bridgestone.

Kimi though, was always going to be the focus of attention in this race. Everyone knew he'd be supremely quick in that McLaren but would the slower cars delay him? In fact they did. Both the mobile chicane of Jarno Trulli's Toyota and that scarlet pig driven by Michael Schumacher conspired to delay the Finn whilst the front runners pulled the gap up to 30 seconds at one point during the race.

The Toyota was slow but the Ferrari cannot claim to be much faster. Raikkonen was all over the back of Schumacher. In an incident at Stowe, the Ferrari was so slow Raikkonen not only had to lift off, he had to side step Schumacher as well. But as at Magny Cours, once both these cars dived into the pits, Kimi was well and truly on his way. He caught up to Jenson Button by the time of the second stop and was able to pass him in the pits.

After the first round of stops, Raikkonen in fact was just behind Alonso and made a move stick through Stowe. There was little point for the Spaniard to resist since his car was brimming with fuel and Raikkonen was miles quicker. But it was nice to see. Raikkonen capped him podium with the fastest lap of the race on the final lap. It was only 0.4 seconds off Alonso's pole. Demonstration, if there needed to be one, of his vastly superior pace. He ended up just 15 seconds behind the leaders at the end despite his huge delay.

Another guy who had a good race I thought was the ever luckless Giancarlo Fisichella. He certainly was able to give his team mate something to think about. After passing Barrichello and Button in the pits after the first stops, he was running solidly in third and shadowing his teammate and Montoya. Alas, during his second stop, he stalled the engine and it was all Raikkonen needed to take the final podium spot away from him.

The Ferraris again had a torrid weekend. This time, there were no retirements to help them and they ended up where they deserve to be, down in sixth and seventh for Schumacher and Berrichello respectively. Michael had completely botched up his qualifying through Stowe and Ferrari tried a three stop strategy for Barrichello that failed miserably. Barrichello, running light was able to stay with Jenson for a while but after the first round of stops was completely blown away. Michael's only feature in the race was to play Minardi in front of Kimi Raikkonen.

All the "cheating" Ferrari have done in the last week seems to have been to no avail. They still ended up 75 seconds behind winner Montoya and a little over a minute behind Raikkonen who started behind them. Yet again, they were almost lapped and this pleases me. I hope Renault and McLaren can repeat the trick where it really counts, at Monza in front of the tifosi. Tall order I know.

Another team finding it tough was Williams. Webber and Heidfeld finishing a lap down in 11th and 12th. Ever since the Sauber announcement, the team's performances have deteriorated tremendously to such a dismal state. Not too long ago, Heidfeld was sharing podiums with the likes of Alonso, now he's finishing behind Filipe Massa. The team have a lot of work to do but not much time to do it with. Unlike some teams, Williams do abide by agreements and choose to compete honourably. But really, Silverstone is normally a circuit where Williams does well. In the past they've simply blitzed the opposition there. That they've struggled so badly today shows the troubles they are in.

Toyota's Ralf Schumacher picked up the final point in eighth whilst Jarno Trulli who qualified ahead of him finished ninth. This is another team that have slipped up badly over the last few races. They had been picking up podiums early on in the season but it seems they've been left behind badly in the development race. They can take heart of the fact that they were not very far behind the Ferraris but really they should be ahead and fighting at the front. I wonder whats going on now at Cologne but Mike Gascoyne has plenty to do.

The best action on track this weekend must go to the midfield battle between the Saubers, Williamses and the Red Bulls. Their battles were actually getting in the way of the leaders but it looked absolutely superb. David Coulthard pulling some good moves. Jacques Villeneuve especially pulling a good one on him. Pity this wasn't the battle for the lead but then again, Formula 1's battles have always raged on in the midfield.

A great result for Montoya then. He did drive superbly and he was quick. I thought he deserved to win. Up next is the Tilke castrated Hokkenheim cicruit where I suspect it'll be more of the same as this weekend. Overtaking at Silverstone was difficult with the cars experiencing massive aero turbulence, no thanks to this stupid FIA 2005 aero rules. But Hokkenheim is a circuit where overtaking is possible despite all the slowish corners. It should be another exciting battle between the Renaults and McLarens. But only if Mercedes can give Kimi an engine that doesn't blow up.

Before I sign off, my heart goes out to the people of London, my home for many years.

Quotes from Max and Bernie

In this interview with ITV Max Mosley we pick up this quote:

"What the teams like or don’t like really, with all respect to them, doesn’t matter. They don’t elect me and they came into our Formula 1 world championship – which we, the FIA started 50 [sic] years ago – because it suited them.

And if it doesn’t suit them any more they can go and run a private series. We would allow them to do that; we wouldn’t impede them in any way.

But if they want to be in the Formula 1 world championship, it’s the FIA’s Formula 1 world championship, not the teams’, and they will do it on the terms of the FIA.

And the president of the FIA will be somebody who’s elected by the 122 countries which belong, and if the teams don’t like it – to be very blunt, it’s too bad.

Oooh yeah. The ego-maniacal statements are certainly flying out now innit Max? Nice way of treating the people who pour billions into "your" sport every single year.

And in this article in UK Daily Mirror, Bernie really lets fly against the manufacturers. I like this particular quote though : "They don't know what they don't know...... They are like guys who have read dirty books but have never been to bed with a woman."

But he's right about one thing though: "It's got so corporate now that I'm surprised some of the English teams don't send their drivers out on to the grid wearing bowler hats. What we need is another James Hunt." Hear! Hear!

However, if you've ever doubted that Ferrari are the FIA and Bernie's favourites and that they're really in bed together, the quote to read is this: "There have been thousands of different formats and regulations over the years and lots of famous teams that have come and gone. Only Ferrari is still around. Do the public give a stuff about the engine manufacturers? Not really. But they do care about Ferrari. And Ferrari would still be in the FIA championship."

In my humble opinion, Ferrari are indeed the most glamorous team out there but that shouldn't buy them special favours with the Establishment, nor should the Establishment go out of their way to please them, nor should Ferrari gain special privileges.

Despite Bernie's claims that the manufacturers are in Formula 1 to make more money, that doesn't mean you give Ferrari more money for coming in last in the championship. Its not just a question of egos, Bernie. You miss the point. Equality and transparency are essential ingredients of sport. These are missing from Formula 1 at the moment.

And sorry Bernie. Ferrari aren't the only teams the fans care about, as it was plainly obvious in Magny Cours and Barcelona. I certainly couldn't give a crap about those mafiosi at Maranello. Some of us who began watching Formula 1 in the early eighties when Ferrari were being hammered, certainly hold McLaren and Williams dearer. Particularly since they had some great drivers in them like Prost, Senna and Mansell. In fact, when Michael Schumacher was all conquering in the Benetton in 94-95, I remember the team built up quite a huge following.

The FIA and Bernie may argue about teams but certainly the drivers should not be overlooked. Mark Webber is correct in stating that ultimately the fans come to watch the drivers. I would argue that Ferrari's popularity is certainly down to Schumacher and not the team itself.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Fans Love The Classics

The results of the FIA survey is in. I was particularly interested in the bit about circuits.

Absolutely wonderful to see that fans around the world agree that classic tracks like Monaco, Spa and Silverstone are tops, whereas most of the Tilke designed dogs are way down the order. Are you hearing this Hermann? Your tracks suck and most people wouldn't give a damn if they disappeared.

Sepang is actually way down the list if you discount newly constructed Istanbul, Shanghai and Bahrain. In fact only the ungodly Hungaroring does worse. And that makes me sad because I've always thought Moron Tilke concentrated more on the shopping strip in the middle of the track rather than the track itself. I really wished he had designed to track better and made it faster. Everytime I drive in Sepang, those slow corners turns 1, 2, 4, 9, 14 and 15 just makes me frustrated. Instead of giving us sweeps and fast turns, he gave us hairpin after hairpin, drag race after drag race.

I think Bernie should give credit then to Silverstone and Spa and quit harping on about places like Sepang and Shanghai. They're dogs Bernie. Silverstones got more character in Copse corner alone than the entire Shanghai track put together. Ask any of the racers racing in Northants this weekend. They all love it. Only Bernie seem to have a problem.

Other interesting facts about circuits is that younger fans seem to want more countries and new circuits added to the calendar whereas older punters (I think that it includes me) couldn't give a damn. In fact, I think screw adding newer countries but bring back more classic racing tracks. Like Brands for instance or Bernie's own Paul Ricard for another.

The order of circuits in the survey:
1. Monaco
2. Spa (This really should've been number 1)
3. Silverstone (Those who've driven on it absolutely love it. Including yours truly)
4. Monza (I was a passenger in a taxi ride around this one. Back in the day when it was way, way quicker)
5. Suzuka (May it always host the Japanese Grand Prix instead of the Tilke modified dog at Fuji)
6. Imola
7. Montreal
8. Hockenheim (How did this dog get all the way up here?)
9. Nurburgring (Hmm.... must be those bloody Germans)
10. Melbourne
11. Indianapolis (Yeah, but would the Americans still want to watch F1 over there?)
12. Interlagos
13. Barcelona
14. Magny-Cours (Deserves a higher placing than Nurburgring)
15. Sepang (They should get rid of all the circuits from this one and all below).
16. Hungaroring (How did it ever make it into F1 in the first place?)
17. Bahrain (Sucks)
18. Shanghai (Sucks big time)
19. Istanbul (Remains to be seen but looks like it would suck)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Of Things To Come

According to this press release on the FIA website, Yokohama was won the tender to supply tyres for the World Touring Car Championship for 2006. The Japanese concern replaces Michelin who have been supplying the championship this year and its forerunner the ETCC since year 2001.

Did the events of Indianapolis have any influence on the results of this tender? I have no idea how these things are decided but one cannot help but suspect that it did.

Perhaps this points to the shape of things to come. Certainly the FIA are proposing that in 2008 a single tyre manufacturer will be selected to supply the entire field in Formula 1.

I think the vast majority of people won't agree with me on this but I am against a single tyre manufacturer in the sport. I know both Bridgestone and Michelin want to remain in Formula 1 so its likely to be a tough battle between the two to remain. Although after Indianapolis I must say Bridgestone must be seen to be the favourites. I'd hate that actually because I think Bridgestone are thankless and underhanded bastards.

But more than that, having two tyre manufacturers is good for the sport, especially combined with multi lap qualifying and the prospect of special qualy tyres. Maybe I'm still thinking about the 80s but I've always thought that qualifying was more exciting back then and through into the 90s. I don't know.

But I'm quite against mono culture in anything and I believe Formula 1 should be a competition for everyone, not just the teams. I mean, manufacturers of brakes, tyres, gear, components et cetera should be given an opportunity to show their stuff in Formula 1. We all have choices when it comes to tyres on our road cars. Why not on the grand prix machines as well?

And really, if we didn't have this silly and highly dangerous one tyre per race rules, the competition wouldn't be about tyres alone. But the rules as such has made it that way where tyres dominate almost the entire proceedings.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

When Will It End?

Hot on the heals of the drivers' letter to Max Mosley, now comes this article in that tells the story of the rebel alliance of manufacturers and teams meeting in Munich today. Also in today is a story in The Times in London, telling the tale of a possible breakaway series to start in 2006.

Update: Not entirely correct here. In actual fact, there was talk of a 2006 start 2 years ahead of schedule if sanctions were imposed on the teams by the World Motorsport Council. My bad.

I'll start with the GrandPrix article which mentions a few interesting things. I guess I'm so obsessed with Formula 1 but apparently discontent is brewing not only in the sport's pinnacle but also in world rallying, trucks and raid rallying as well. Among the agenda of the Munich meeting, is the possibility of picking a candidate to run against Max Mosley for the FIA presidency.

But that's going to be difficult because as I mentioned in my previous post Mad Max has been consolidating his position in the FIA.

The GrandPrix article states: "it is going to be a bitter campaign because Mosley and his supporters have turned the FIA into a fortress. The electoral system was changed just a few months ago to favour the incumbent and all internal resistance to Mosley seems to have been crushed, or at least has gone underground. The current structure exists because the people involved do not want things to change. There is nothing wrong with such a system as long as people outside are happy but increasingly, and particularly in the high profile world of Formula 1, they are not."

Both The Times and GrandPrix do mention that the manufacturers are finalising plans for a breakaway series. The rules package for that series will be shown to the FIA as a matter of course, but as the Times mention, "the teams remain determined that they will race without him (Mosley). If that means ditching the FIA, which has governed the sport throughout its 55-year history, they seemed resigned to that outcome."

Interestingly enough the latest proposals from the FIA for the 2008 rules contain a copyright clause, obviously to protect against anyone seeking to start a breakaway series. But really that is a small deterrent to the big boys in the Rebel Alliance.

If a breakaway series is to begin in 2006, I think it just might trigger a series of massive lawsuits because if I'm not mistaken the teams are contractually bound by the Concorde agreement to race until the end of year 2007.

Update:>A 2006 start is unlikely to happen. Again, my mistake. But a 2008 breakaway looks increasingly possible and I still stand by what I wrote below.

Another consideration is television coverage. Bernie charges an arm and a leg to people like ITV for the rights to the Formula 1 coverage. Would TV stations pay for covering yet another grand prix series, albeit one that promises potentially better racing? On the flip side, the manufacturers are big advertising spenders. And so are the sponsors whose names adorn their cars. Those sponsors are going to want to spend money on adverts in the breakaway series. That just might force the TV stations to pick the breakaway series over Bernie's Formula 1.

In a season thats given us a better spectacle than ever, structurally, its deteriorating by the day. I wonder what Bernie will do now. In a recent interview, he seemed to be on the side of the teams and Michelin. But in actual fact he is caught in the middle between the FIA and the rebels, as Frank Williams mentions in this article in the Guardian.

As far as the commercial side is concerned, one of the GPWC's aims is to get a better and more equitable share of the revenues of the sport. If Bernie wants to sign them up, thats one of the things he'll have to agree to. Not merely being greedy as many publications are trumpeting, but in fact Formula 1 is an incredibly expensive business.

To put things into perspective. I believe the cost of building Sepang was roughly around USD 100 million (I may be way off here). That was a one time cost. Teams like Ferrari spend more than USD 400 million PER YEAR. And the rest ain't that far behind either. Of course, teams are going to want additional revenue shares. They've pumped in a king's ransom into the sport year on year.

But what did our Bernie do? In the new Concorde agreement, he promised Ferrari greater share of revenue than the world championship winner even if Ferrari came in dead last in the championship. More than just the teams being greedy as many like to mention, the sports commercial structure is just plain unfair.

Thats why blokes like Paul Stoddart is willing to flog his team off in disgust. Now if a reconciliation is to happen, Bernie might just have to tear up that new Concorde agreement with Ferrari. And Luca ain't going to be smiling then. Especially when FIAT is being taken to the cleaners financially.

Although if we look at this whole situation from another angle, the Banks that hold the majority controlling shares in SLEC, Bernie's family trust that controls F1's commercial interest, must be getting very very nervous right about now. I mean, the value of their investment must be seen to be in serious jeapordy.

Could all this be a simple ruse to get the banks to sell their shares back to Bernie at rock bottom prices? It seems like a big ruse if that is so. But look at it this way. Bernie as yet has said very little. Its as if he's simply letting it go all to hell. Funnily enough, he has most to lose if it does. Or should I say the banks have most to lose.

I'd like to point to the reader to this article in It brings up a lot of interesting point to whet the appetite of conspiracy theorists everywehre. The article asks, why didn't Coulthard sign the second letter from the GPDA to Max Mosley? Why did BMW and Honda mysteriously drop the arbitration case against the FIA over the 2006 engine regulations? Why did Paul Stoddart suddenly drop his case at Melbourne?

But the most intriguing point was this. Apparently in the Concorde agreement, a provision is made so that the race organiser has the right to take decisions that cannot be influenced by the FIA, if it pertains their own event. So, in the case of Indianapolis, it was well within Tony George's right to overrule the FIA and force a compromise that would have allowed all the teams to participate. When asked why he did not do so, he reply was: "I can't do it. I just can't do it!" Why not?

What mysterious force moves behind these unexplained series of events? Whatever it is, it was strong enough to influence heavy hitters like BMW, Honda and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The last one being the most surprising to me. I always thought American organisers placed fans above any other consideration. And I've always thought and respected them for not taking any cattle manure from anyone. And yet in this case.....

All this intrigue, mystery and secrecy brings us to another point the GPWC members are particularly concerned with. That is, the need for transparency in the financial, operational and commercial governance of the sport.

So back to my original question, when will all these current politics end? I suspect the answer just might be this: When the banks sell their shares back to Bernie. Otherwise, I doubt if anyone has the answer.

Drivers Openly Protest

Following on from my previous post, now there's this story on The drivers apparently have decided to go public as the GPDA against Max Mosley.

In a letter from the drivers to the FIA president they charge that they are "concerned to learn that during the course of this telephone conversation you suggested the FIA might withdraw support for the ongoing safety initiatives of the GPDA." The telephone conversation refers to the telephone call between David Coulthard and Max Mosley recently.

In addition they assert that Mosley "dissuaded driver representation in Paris for the World Motor Sport Council meeting."

The letter was signed by all the drivers including Rubens Barrichello. Curious then that he did not sign the original drivers statement.

Michael Schumacher and the two Red Bull drivers did not sign. That includes Coulthard. Strange. But I suppose having recently signed for Red Bull and given that Red Bull will not appeal against the World Motorsport Council decision, it perhaps comes as no surprise. The Red Bull camp is thought to be firmly behind the FIA and Ferrari. I doubt if they want to disturb the applecart any further.

This situation is getting more confusing by the minute. If indeed the drivers's concern is safety why is the president of the GPDA, Michael Schumacher keeping ever so silent? Bernie is no where to be seen or heard either.

Update: Now Mark Webber is also openly against the damned regulations. Too right, mate. Give us back 12 lap qualifying. Give us back unlimited laps. Off with that lawyer's head!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


In this ITV-F1 story, Mad Max has opted to cancel his meeting with the Formula 1 drivers that was originally scheduled to happen this weekend at Silverstone.

I think a lot of people thought that the meeting was to discuss the drivers statement on Indianapolis. But according to Max Mosley the meeting was "to discuss the possibility of the FIA imposing safety measures at private test sessions equal to those in force at a Grand Prix."

But now Mad Max has decided to cancel because apparently according to him Coulthard has "now used the prospect of this meeting as a reason to air your personal views on current regulations to the press."

Now we all know that Coulthard had recently expressed his views regarding certain Sporting Regulations to The Times in London. And yes, you could expect a tyrant like Max Mosley to feel threatened and insecure about it. But I thought the issue to be discussed was the drivers statement. Where did this thing about private testing safety measures come about?

Perhaps Mad Max simply doesn't want to acknowledge the drivers' statement in public and used the private testing as the main issue instead.

But there are two points to consider here. One, as The Times article pointed out, the drivers are usually the last group anyone asks about the sporting and technical regulations. Second, the drivers more than anyone else should know more about safety and sporting issues. After all, they're the ones driving the bloody cars.

But we see again here evidence of Max Mosley's dictatorial style. The Times apparently hinted that Max Mosley may have tried to intimidate Coulthard. I quote: "The paddock at Magny-Cours was awash with rumour that Mosley had laid into Coulthard in a telephone conversation for leading the drivers to write a letter of support for the seven teams that backed Michelin and withdrew from the US Grand Prix last month. The FIA confirmed that Mosley and Coulthard had a “frank” exchange, but Mosley will now appear in front of the drivers on Friday afternoon at Silverstone before the British Grand Prix. The meeting is a chance for the drivers to ask Mosley if he tried to intimidate Coulthard and to put forward their grievances on a range of issues, such as those that emerged in France. "

But I suppose we can blame Coulthard for opening his big mouth before the meeting could take place. But perhaps Max Mosley didn't want to face the drivers that he had suggested race in Indianapolis with his ludicrous proposals and so concocted this press statement to avoid them.

The FIA have lost the support of the teams. Now they're losing support of the drivers as well. Or let me correct that, Max Mosley is losing their support. I'd like to think that he'll be removed soon but ever since his "resignation" last year and subsequent reinstatement as FIA president, he has been strengthening his position within the FIA. Removing him is not going to be easy. But surely the members can see that this man no longer holds any substantial mandate within the top level of motorsport.

A Very Political Season

This really must be the most intensely political Formula 1 season I've ever seen. I never did follow the FOCA-FISA wars of the 80s and was probably too young to understand it even if I did. I've never seen anything like 2005 before.

Funny that it should come at a time when competition on the race track has intensified as well. If you thought that some people were merely being anti-FIA and anti-Ferrari just for the hell of it, then by rights something like this year should have happened during a Ferrari domination period. But that simply hasn't happened to such intensity over the last 5 years. Its actually happened at a time when Ferrari are being given a good waxing by the likes of Renault and McLaren.

But thinking about it, its probably the best time to start a battle against the Axis of Evil (FIA/FOM/Ferrari) because otherwise, the Rebel Alliance would be seen as merely being sour grapes.

Let's start off with the ever combative Paul Stoddart, who in this story has given notice that its either Mad Max or the Minardi team that will leave the sport in the near future. Neither the exit of Minardi or its boss is likely to send many shockwaves into the pitlane but still, his sentiments echo that of the majority of the teams. He is simply fed up with the current FIA president and who can blame him. He adds that "the teams have had a gutful of Max," and "either he goes or F1 as we know it today will go. I think a breakaway series is guaranteed. It doesn't matter who replaces him. He is so bad now that anyone could do it." Anyone could do it but I think I'd prefer if a Scottish former world champion did it. Better him than Jean Todt who is Max's favourite to replace himself.

And clearly, the two have a good rapport because amidst all the protests and acrimony from the teams and even from the drivers, Michelle's hubby has planted the Rosso Corsa flag firmly in the FIA camp. Same story with some commentary from here. And consider the comment made by GrandPrix and I quote: "The interesting thing about Todt's speech is that he felt the need to make it. The other question raised by the remarks is whether or not Todt made them without being asked to come to Mosley's aid. That is impossible to know but it is as much a part of the political games at the moment as the results themselves." Interesting indeed.

But as the Pitpass article mentions this announcement by Todt is "unlikely to be seen as the biggest shock in motor racing history." In other words, everyone knows Ferrari and the FIA are in bed together. But whereas there were just off the record rumours, speculations and analyses based on evidence, Ferrari have never gone on record to state its support of the FIA.

Curious. All the while the Rebel Alliance (read the GPWC) members have alleged a FIA/Ferrari "special" relationship but now they have proof of the pudding. Which is likely to strengthen their resolve further. Surely the FIA know that. At a time when the FIA should be trying to mend the fences with the rebels, instead they seem to aggravate them further.

Could it be that the FIA want to kick them out of the world championship? Even in the rationale for the proposed 2008 rules have mentioned the manufacturers explicitly. And that rationale explains that the future of the world championship lies with keeping the independents alive and make it less of a spend till you drop contest.

Now I like independent teams and I love specialist engine manufacturers (now long gone) but I think a championship is stronger with some car manufacturers involved. Therefore, we can't always bow to their needs but nevertheless they shouldn't be ignored. But the FIA looks as if it wants to beat up these car manufacturers. Big mistake because these are big players. If they leave then the future of Formula 1 would be a mirror of Indianapolis.

Surely the FIA and Bernie can't afford that.

Now before you pro-FIA types go off and say that Indianapolis was simply a show of power by the manufacturers, let me remind you that the issue was unsafe tyres. It just so happens that the manufacturers were using tyres from Michelin. And those tyres were defective. To me it was the FIA who was trying to showing its power. And quite stupidly as well.

An interesting article in states that while the FIA are willing to formulate (2008) rules to improve the show, that is in direct contrast to its attitude at Indianapolis. As the article mentions: "On that occasion the teams did everything possible to make sure that a race would take place. The FIA stuck to the rules to the extent to which it became impossible for the Michelin runners to take part in the race. The philosophy then was to stick to the rules at all costs, even if it was at the expense of the show."

As the GrandPrix article concludes: "When one gets through all the smoke and the mirrors, the clear impression is that this is not about anything other than control of the sport." My sentiments exactly.

And now after a long time being passive and silent the Grand Prix Drivers Association is jumping in. This article on Pitpass discusses the situation. As the article quite rightly points out the drivers individually and collectively are loathe to air any dirty laundry in public. After all, they have sponsors to please and if they are too outspoken and characterful, that is, not acting like a squeeky clean corporate robot, then they could simply replace that driver with an eager to please young punk from the juniour formulae.

Now thats a sad situation. After all, week in week out, its the drivers who risk their lives. So, they should be more outspoken and they should have more say in these matters. But at least the GPDA has spoken up and will be having further discussions with Mad Max this weekend.

David Coulthard speaking to The Times in London draws up some interesting points. He mentions that "all these rules — qualifying, single laps and ten-place penalties — are not designed to wreck races, but the consequence is that they do."

Additionally the article mentions that: "Coulthard believes that changing the rules simply to cope with the success of Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, was a mistake and said yesterday: “It was wrong to do it just because one person is doing the job and others are not. We should applaud success, not handicap it.”"

True. Absolutely true. Michael has been doing the business and I'm the first to say that he deserves it. Introducing artificiality is simply wrong.

But understand that in the world championship, the rules are divided into two very distinct categories. There are the Sporting Regulations and then there are the Technical Regulations. The Sporting Regulations have been made to stop Schumacher. But the then the Technical Regulations simply gives the advantage to Ferrari.

Every time there's a big change as we had this year, the teams with the most money have the best chance of responding. Technical regulation changes are an advantage to the big teams. And as I've said many a time, regulations like the two weekend engine rule gives advantage to a super reliable car like the Ferrari and penalizes the rest of the teams. Ask Kimi Raikkonen.

I'm sure that when the single tyre regulation was announced, many would have thought that it would be advantageous to Bridgestone who at the time were simply head and shoulders ahead of Michelin.

It only just so happens that this year, Ferrari and Bridgestone have made a serious blunder in the design of their package. For the last 5 years they got it right. But happily so, this year its the others that have produced superior machinery.

Really with all due respect to Coulthard, the jungle is neutral and so are the rules. That is to say it applies to everyone whether his name is Schumacher or Freisacher. But of course, I'd prefer to see the abolition of these silly rules. It is artifical and even if they were abolished, Ferrari and Schumacher would still be creamed this year. Again ask Kimi Raikkonen what would have happened if he had started third on the grid last weekend.

Whatever happens, I think all this is going to come to a head when the FIA meet the teams in September. I really hope all this will be resolved soon. Its getting quite tiring. But thankfully, the action on the track is superb this year. And thats really the most important thing, isn't it?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Tyrannical Behaviour

Underlying the fact that there is something egomaniacal about Max Mosley, we hear over the weekend that the Grand Prix Drivers Association and the FIA president have come to some sort of acrimony over the drivers' recent statement on Indianapolis.

19 drivers from the affected Michelin teams together with the two Minardi drivers signed a statement recently expressing concerns over the black weekend in America. Specifically, the drivers shot down the FIA suggestions for the race to be held under a speed limit as "unworkable, unpoliceable and unsafe."

Not all members of the GPDA agreed to sign the document. The Ferrari and Jordan drivers both declined to sign. Michael Schumacher claimed that this was a Renault initiative and not one by the GPDA. Fellow GPDA director Jarno Trulli responded by saying that the statement was passed around via GPDA e-mail so no one (read Michael Schumacher) could say they didn't receive it.

Jean Todt recently commented that there was "no pressure" applied to their drivers from the team to stop them from signing the agreement. I think I believe him. Only because there was no need for any pressure. After all, Ferrari and Schumacher benefitted enormously from the farce and if anyone remembers, the suggestion to dive into the pitlane on every lap belonged to one Rubens Barrichello after the race. This was later picked up by the World Motorsport Council in their verdict. That in itself was extremely funny since it amounted to a legal blunder. The teams were never charged for it but it appeared in the verdict.

Similarly Jordan, who picked up a nice gift at Indianapolis. Tiago ain't going to join in and neither will Narain Karthikeyan who in this story simply heaped blame on Michelin.

It appears that the FIA statement has irked Mad Max. This is unconfirmed of course and even David Coulthard, top signatory of the drivers' statement has said that the press is only getting half the story.

But if it is true that Mad Max is indeed mad over the statement, then it simply shows this person's state of mind. Any challenge to his views is simply not acceptable. Every and any difference of opinion must be shot down and hard. Even if it is backed by the majority of drivers. Yes I know its unconfirmed. But I wouldn't be surprised if that was his reaction. To take it with style and grace is simply not in keeping with Mosley. He prefers the dictatorial hammer against the dissidents.

As Frank Williams would say, Max is corrupt by power. Just like any tyrannical dictator.

French Grand Prix

If Michael Schumacher thought he was in with a chance of winning this weekend, then I'm sure the lads at Renault and McLaren must be only too pleased to prove him wrong. Dead wrong.

These two were the stars of today's show. Fernando Alonso's performance was flawless. Pulling out an unassailable lead before the first round of stops with the help of Jarno Trulli who was keeping Michael Schumacher and everyone else behind him. But take nothing away from Alonso. His pace was simply astonishing and I'm sure even if Michael had gotten past Trulli at that early stage, he simply could not stay with the brilliant young Spaniard.

Meanwhile behind stuck in midfield were the two McLarens of Juan Montoya and Kimi. The pair were very heavily fueled. In Kimi's case, it was not very obvious in qualifying. Nevertheless, the pair stayed out longer than all else. After the front runners dived into the pits, the McLarens were truly unleashed. Their pace nigh unbeatable. Kimi in particular putting a charge very reminiscent of Michael Schumacher.

When finally Juan Montoya dived into the pits, such was his pace he came out again ahead of the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher. But Kimi stayed out and kept on hammering fastest lap after fastest lap. He surely would leapfrog the both of them after his stop. And that was about 4 laps after Montoya's stop.

That certainly put a new light on his third place grid position. Had he been following orthodox three stop strategy, he could have been simply way out in front on pole position.

After the excitement of the first round of stops, the positions remained as such. Fernando Alonso responding to the growing threat of Raikkonen's McLaren with some consistently fast laps in the 1m 16s bracket. Kimi was simply too far behind to catch Alonso since he was running at a similar pace.

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher was hassling Montoya behind. Both of them being dropped by Kimi Raikkonen. I wonder if this was simply McLaren team tactics though. Because once Kimi pulled away and left them for dead, so Montoya started to leave Michael Schumacher behind.

In the post race interview, Michael Schumacher complained that Montoya had held him back. But at the time when Montoya was having his hydraulic problems in the car later on, Michael Schumacher was absolutely no where to be seen. In fact it was several laps before Michael Schumacher was finally seen and was able to overtake Montoya, who in the end retired from the race with no hydraulics.

In front, clearly Alonso was still keeping up the pace. He was able to lap the entire field up to Michael Schumacher. At one point before his final stop, he was right behind the German. Ahhh, what a difference a year makes. The satisfaction at Renault must be immense.

At the end Alonso was nearly an entire lap ahead of Michael Schumacher. Which make me wonder how those die hard Ferrari sympathizers Peter Windsor and Star Sports' Steve Slater could call this a strong performance from Ferrari? Rubens Barrichello was utterly annihilated. Michael was almost lapped by Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finished 55 seconds ahead of him. How could anyone have called it a strong performance? In this light, their humiliation is as bad as it was at Sepang. And back then they were using the F2004. Its still happening with this year's car.

Michelin too must be immensely satisfied as well after their cock up 2 weeks ago at Indianapolis. Far from just all the bad publicity and politics, their mistake gifted a victory to Maranello. A hollow victory mind you but still one that allowed Michael Schumacher to catch up. Glad to see Kimi and Fernando putting him in his place. But what I liked most was that on the podium when the French national anthem was being played, Fernando pointed to the Michelin motif on his cap and smiled away. Hah! May as well have been a two fingered salute to Bridgestone.

Juan Montoya's problems sadly cost him a definite podium. Alright, he may have done many things wrong all by himself this season but really he deserves better luck than this. Another suffering team mate is Giancarlo Fisichella. He got lapped by Fernando. In all his career he's always had the upper hand on all his teammates including Ralf Schumacher and Jenson Button. But Fernando is proving to be light years ahead. I'm pretty sure he's facing car trouble in there but really it doesn't look good for him. Especially at Montreal when Fernando was screaming to be let past.

All told Jacques Villeneuve had a good race for Sauber, taking the last points finish spot denying the Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello. Its Michael Schumacher's brilliance thats keeping Ferrari in the game. Otherwise this would be the early 90s all over again. Luckily for them they got Indianapolis because I don't think Ferrari are in any position to win on merit anywhere this year except perhaps at Monza and Suzuka. They usually are blindingly quick there.

The BARs were threatening in qualifying but like everyone else simply could not get to terms with McLaren and Renault. Taku once again battling himself more than the opposition.

Silverstone is next. On current form, I fancy Kimi Raikkonen to take that one. Although, in the championship, Fernando Alonso is looking ever stronger with today's win. He just needs podiums from now on. Its a tall order for either Raikkonen or Schumacher to catch him even if they won everything from now on.

Its such a pity McLaren didn't sort their car out earlier because on pure speed Raikkonen deserves victory I believe. He's superemly fast and his car looks like a championship winner. But Renault and Alonso are simply too far out in front now. Five victories in the bag. The championship can't be far behind.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Red Bull Won't Appeal

In this story in today, Red Bull Racing owner Dietrich Mateschitz says that Red Bull will not be joining the other Michelin teams in appealing against the recent World Motorsport Council verdict.

Curiously, he says that since there is no punishment, Red Bull will not be appealing. But I thought that the sentencing was merely suspended until September. Whilst Mad Max has recently said that points won't be deducted and race bans unlikely, nevertheless he does speak of financial penalties for the teams.

Interestingly, the article does point out that if the guilty verdict is overturned on appeal, Red Bull will be the sole guilty party remaining and they'd be solely liable as well.

Of course Mateschitz is denying that his securing of Ferrari power units has anything to do with the decision not to appeal. Yeah right. A few months ago Peter Sauber denied that BMW would be purchasing Sauber, now look what happened.

While there's no official word from Red Bull, nevertheless, Bernie claims that they too have signed on the new Concorde agreement. His alignment with the Axis Of Evil (Ferrari, FOM, FIA) is pretty much done. Independence on political matters Dieter? That's a good one.

Like many other people, I quite admired Red Bull's achievements especially during the first few races of this season. But their decisions lately have caused a change of heart. Just like Sauber, do they really expect that Ferrari would let themselves be beaten by a customer team? I'd echo Eddie Jordan's sentiments of many years ago. I just can't understand how anyone would go racing with the knowledge that they don't have a fair shot at winning.